Legacy is tough. As many of you likely know, there are countless decisions to be made within a single game, hundreds of cards to consider when making individual plays, and a large number of decks that you need to learn to face.
Legacy is also (unfortunately) an expensive game to play. With the prices of staples leaping in price year on year, it is becoming tricky to find opponents who possess the cardboard necessary to Brainstorm. This hinders the average player’s ability to improve within the format.
Enter Magic: the Gathering Online.
Magic Online allows you to find opponents to play against at any hour of the day (much to my girlfriend’s dismay), allowing a Legacy enthusiast to grind games to their heart’s content.
I only acquired the paper cards to start playing Legacy in early 2016 (though I had been watching it religiously on SCG before they cut the content down) – and after several top 16 finishes at larger local events and champs in Paris – I thought I’d get a little more serious about playing Legacy.
Early November last year, I bought into Grixis Delver on MTGO and began grinding leagues. I soon found that the competition online is very real and the vast majority of players seem to know what they are doing.
FGC - Grixis Delver
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Deathrite Shaman
3 Young Pyromancer
1 True-Name Nemesis
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Force of Will
2 Cabal Therapy
1 Spell Pierce
4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
3 Volcanic Island
2 Underground Sea
1 Tropical Island
1 Invasive Surgery
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Pithing Needle
2 Baleful Strix
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Cabal Therapy
1 Forked Bolt
2 Surgical Extraction
I wanted to make sure I was getting the most out of my time spent grinding Legacy, and in an attempt to measure my results with the deck, I began recording my results as I played. Specifically, I recorded who I was playing against, the deck they were playing, whether I won or lost the match, how many games I won and lost, and whether I was on the play or the draw. This was a nice balance of recording enough factors for the information to be useful and not writing down every tiny detail and it becoming a chore. I then used the information I gathered to give me my win % over time vs each deck, each player, how often I played vs a certain deck and how much being on the play or the draw mattered in each matchup. Some of this data will be discussed later in this article.
I now have records for 400 matches with Grixis Delver played over the previous MTGO League season – over which I acquired 10 undefeated finishes, despite spending the entirety of my MTGO time in December playing cube (which I don’t regret at all, see the image below).
So, without any further ado, let’s get into the data. The main points I will discuss in this article are:
- The metagame I found existed on Magic Online during the months of November-January – not just the winner’s metagame
- The match-ups of Grixis Delver, how I fared and why I am no longer regularly choosing to play the deck
This is the selection of decks I played against, and boy, what a selection it was.
|Matchup||%of Personal Meta|
|Sneak and Show||4.04%|
|Death and Taxes||2.02%|
|Mono Red Sneak Attack||1.01%|
|UW Enchantment Control||0.51%|
|RUG Thing in the Ice||0.25%|
The clear top dogs over the period the data was collected were Miracles, Eldrazi Stompy and Grixis Delver, each claiming above 7.5% of my personal metagame.
The interesting point I find here is that Miracles only just broke the 9.5% meta share point in my testing, however, the 5-0 results online report that Miracles often takes up 12-15% of the winner’s metagame, whereas Eldrazi and Grixis barely pushed the 10% mark the majority of the time from memory.
This could imply that Eldrazi and Grixis were getting 5-0 results purely due to popularity, not due to those decks being a measurable amount better than say BR Reanimator, BUG Delver or ANT. Miracles, however, was (and I suspect still is) punching above its weight, scoring more undefeated finishes than the runner-up decks, despite not being vastly more popular than them.
During November-January, the decks that I saw surging in popularity due to recent developments and finishes were BR Reanimator, UR Delver and Sneak and Show. Of these, I would expect BR Reanimator to maintain its tier one status going forward. It has an extremely powerful game plan and is very degenerate, often being able to develop a game-winning board state on turn one through countermagic using Chancellor of the Annex and discard spells like Unmask.
I expect Sneak and Show variants to return to their previous 1-1.5% metagame share after the spike from the GP Chiba results, and for UR Delver to decline slightly in popularity with the rise in BR reanimator (with Delver players favouring lists containing Deathrite Shaman) and the printing of Fatal Push.
Now, onto discussing matchups, how I thought Grixis Delver was positioned, and my reasons for moving on from the deck.
Here, I have chosen to show my win percentages in the matchups I played the most during leagues. This is to avoid the meaningless data that arises when I say that I’ve beaten Zombardment and Enchantress 100% of the time, when I have only played against those decks once each. The data given here is largely representative of what the matchups shown are like for Grixis.
As is to be expected, the combo matchups of Omni-Tell, Infect, Sneak and Show, BR Reanimator and ANT are favourable matchups for Grixis. The classic plan of a quick clock and disruption works well against these strategies. In the case of Infect, every card in your deck is relevant in the matchup and as long as you draw a good mix of pressure, removal, and countermagic, it is very difficult to lose.
I credit the prevalence of Eldrazi on MTGO towards the end of last year with a large number of my undefeated finishes. This matchup (as the numbers show) is positive for Grixis, with every card in your deck being more efficient and less clumsy than the cards in the Eldrazi deck. With Daze and Force of Will backing up early pressure and the ability to control the board with Young Pyromancer, Gurmag Angler and True-Name Nemesis, you can often ignore every threat they present barring Reality Smasher. Obviously, Chalice of the Void on one is horrendous for Delver to deal with, but the larger threats in the Delver deck can often get there and there are plenty of sideboard options to deal with a Chalice.
Delver mirrors will always be close unless one player gets all of their lands destroyed and has to sit awkwardly twiddling their thumbs. These results were recorded prior to the printing of Fatal Push and so I found the BUG Delver matchup to be close but favourable, as having access to Lightning Bolt and Young Pyromancer meant you could efficiently answer their Deathrites and Delvers whilst blanking their Tarmogoyfs. Fatal Push changes this balance significantly, giving BUG players a tempo friendly way to kill Young Pyromancer. Grixis Delver should be a 50/50 matchup (obviously), so I am proud of my 60% win rate here. Better lucky than good eh?
UR Delver is by far the hardest Delver matchup for Grixis. They effectively have access to eight Lightning Bolts, which means very few of your early threats stick, and Price of Progress, which is often very costly for Grixis if it resolves. The prowess threats are easy to protect from our Lightning Bolts and Dismember is not reasonable to cast in the matchup, neither is Gitaxian Probe due to the life loss in casting the Phyrexian mana spells.
Shardless BUG is a favourable matchup for Grixis, but it is close. You can punish Shardless quite heavily for the high number of expensive spells in their deck using Wasteland and Daze, you can ignore the Agents and Tarmogoyfs with Young Pyromancer, and concentrate on pressuring them in the air with Delver and draining them with Deathrite. Their removal spell of choice pre-board, Abrupt Decay, is tempo negative and inefficient at dealing with Grixis’ primary threats. However, if the game goes long and the Grixis player fails to pressure the Shardless player sufficiently, Grixis very quickly becomes the underdog and gets smothered by card advantage. Post board, Grixis gets access to Pyroblast to deal with Ancestral Vision to help going long, but Shardless gets access to Disfigure (likely to become Fatal Push) and Toxic Deluge. Deluge can be a complete blowout and is important to keep in mind.
Aggro Loam is a matchup which must be won through early pressure backed up with countermagic. If the game goes long then Grixis often loses in quick fashion to the Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows engine and Knight of the Reliquary brick walling Gurmag Angler. Adding Chalice into the mix to potentially stop you before you’ve even played a threat can make Aggro Loam one of the trickier decks to overcome.
Elves and Death and Taxes were Grixis’ worst popular matchups from testing. Both decks have threats which are tricky to answer in a profitable way and both decks have very powerful end games which easily go over the top of what Delver is trying to do. Whilst I admit these are genuinely bad matchups, I suspect that the low win percentages here are at least somewhat to do with my unfamiliarity and poor plays in the matchups, and partly to do with almost half of my Elves opponents being a certain Julian23. With a little more practice and an improved sideboarding technique, I believe both of these matchups can be won more consistently.
Finally, we come to the elephant in the room, Miracles. Miracles has traditionally been a poor matchup for Delver strategies – even ones designed specifically to beat the deck. I actually think the 50% win rate I have here is pretty reasonable considering the tools Miracles has to defeat decks like Delver. Terminus, Counterbalance and Monastery Mentor are all a pain to deal with, and Swords to Plowshares combined with Snapcaster Mage isn’t a picnic either. You have to constantly be aware of not overextending, whilst making sure you pressure the Miracles player enough so that they can’t just remove all your threats with Swords to Plowshares, or play a Mentor and put you behind on board. Miracles is the main reason I have moved away from playing Grixis due to the strength of the deck and its popularity in the metagame.
I have tried playing various 4c Delver lists which have been popping up recently, but the lack of aggression in those decks made me uncomfortable playing them. I missed having Young Pyromancer to control the board state and the Dazes in the 4c decks are just awful when your hand is all Snapcaster Mages. In my opinion, moving forward the best shell for Delver of Secrets is likely a BUG deck playing Nimble Mongoose, Stifle and the oft talked about Fatal Push. This strategy should be effective at fighting Miracles whilst retaining an edge against combo. Fatal Push gives this ‘Dark Thresh’ style deck the needed efficient black removal spell to replace Bolt allowing the deck to play with Deathrite Shaman and potentially Abrupt Decay, both important tools in the modern Legacy metagame.
A further way Miracles has contributed to me moving away from playing Grixis, is that I am now turning to the dark side and spinning tops all day and all night. I am currently grinding leagues with a Mentor heavy Miracles list, which I hope to write a similar article for in the coming months.
Thanks for reading,